Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Network

Connecting emerging arts managers with skill-building and leadership development resources.

Why you should care about the state of arts education

Arts education is my passion. So forgive me for what follows, but you know what? If you’re in the arts, it should be your passion, too.

Whether you are an arts maker, arts decision maker, arts advocate, arts consumer, or an arts educator, what happens in arts education–and by this, I mean the whole gamut, from itty bitty babes to the young-at-heart sect–determines the vibrancy of the community we work and live within and the realistic scope of what we in the arts world can successfully accomplish.

“Blah blah blah,” you say. “Your previous sentence is loaded and vague and like everything else I’ve ever read about arts education. I’ve heard this all before. Why care now?”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that within the last month, an enormous amount of literature has been released involving arts education because there’s a lot of value in arts education that many are only now beginning to recognize. But here are two facts from recent reports to that have been sticking in my mind, and although they speak specifically to K-12 education I feel they are reflective of arts education as whole:

1. If, as EPLC and the Arts and Education Initiative’s report, Creating Pennsylvania’s Future Through the Arts in Education puts forward, over 80% of Americans believe the arts are an integral part to a well-rounded education and the arts are seen as a vital component for addressing 21st century workforce skills by key business leaders, why are fewer than 50% of children studying the arts? (I should note that these stats are being re-reported from other literature. To actually read their recs for what we should do in PA, go here).

2. From the gist of the just released Arts Education in Public  Elementary and Secondary Schools 1999-2000 and 2009-2010 from the National Center for Educational Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education (how’s that for having some clout behind it?), it appears that fewer students across the board are studying an art area (but this is substantial when you take into account that visual arts and music are still more widely offered, while dance and theatre is offered in less than 4% of elementary schools, for instance), and that the decline is even larger for lower-income students.

Why should you care? Wait wait, before you answer, let me ask you this: did you take art in school? Did it shape you on your path to where you are today? My answer, at least, is a resounding, “yes!”

So I’ll ask again: why should you care? Oh, before you answer again, think about this: How did you learn to be creative?

Why should you care? Does artistic genius only come to those who can afford to pay for after-school training?

Why should you care? Do you want an appreciative consumer of your art in 20 years, or were you planning on retiring before then? Oh, you haven’t started an IRA yet? Well, I guess you’ll still be working right along with me!

Why should you care? Is the rest of the world investing in arts education? (the answer: yes).

Why should you care? Are you in dance or theatre? Do you see the lack of representation we have in the schools? Breaks my heart.

Why should you care? Why should you care? Pick a reason, any reason. Add a reason below.

Because the reasons are all here. How we handle arts education today will affect how we create art (and hopefully, we have artists who have been taught techniques for how to create art), consume art, criticize art, market art, etc. with the next generation of emerging arts leaders. THAT is why you should care about the state of arts education.

[whew…stepping off soapbox and heading towards the kitchen for a beer, thinking about the inevitable follow-up blog post, “Now what to DO about the state of arts education…”]

Alyssa Herzog Melby is the Director of Education and Community Engagement at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. All opinions expressed herein are hers alone and not those of PBT.


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